Driving back from seeing The Conjuring, my daughter and I tried to guess why Andrew O’Hehir thought it was “woman hating.”
We had watched the horror movie about Catholic ghost hunters because I wanted to know if it qualifies as a “proudly Catholic movie” for our July movie poll (which isn’t the reason for this post, but you can vote here).
We had read the headline of O’Hehir’s Salon magazine piece, “The Conjuring: Right-wing, woman-hating and really scary.” We had read the subtitle: “From its historical lies to its family-values messaging, the sneakiest Christian movie of the year is a real horror.”
But we hadn’t read the article, and having watched the movie had no idea what was “woman-hating” about it.
Does he think the female characters are weak? we asked. No, that wasn’t it ….
[Warning: Spoilers ahead!]Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Catholic “demonologists” Ed and Lorraine Warren.
The “based on a true story” plot involves two families.
First there is the victim family that buys a farmhouse in New Hampshire that turns out to be haunted by a demon who (we eventually learn) possesses women and makes them kill their children.
Second is the ghost hunter couple who were involved in The Amityville Horror case that frightened me beyond all reason when I read my big brother’s copy of the book when I was 10. In the movie (I haven’t met and haven’t researched the real people) the couple is made up of the intense oddball Catholic Ed Warren and his sweet but strong clairvoyant wife, Lorraine.
Women in the movie are victims, yes — but they are also aggressors and rescuers.
So what was O’Hehir’s objection? We looked it up when we got home. Here is where he best sums up his point:
“The relentless focus of The Conjuring on married life, Christian baptism and the old-school Latinate mumbo-jumbo of the Catholic Church as essential elements in resisting evil – and on womanhood and especially motherhood as the fount or locus of evil – is just too much to overlook.”
So … he didn’t like the movie because he rejects married life, baptism and Catholic sacramentals. Thanks, O’Hehir, for rejecting my lifestyle. If I lived near you I would picket your office with a “No More Hate!” sign. We can both be thankful I don’t.
But O’Hehir’s indictment of the movie as seeing motherhood as a “fount or locus of evil” is not just wrong, it’s wrong in a way that creeps me out.
In the movie, motherhood is not the “fount” of evil in the movie in any sense. A malevolent spirit takes special pleasure in making mothers kill their children precisely because motherhood is a good thing. And O’Hehir knows it. For him to use the weasel words “fount or locus” is intellectual dishonesty. It’s like calling grandmother’s house a “fount or locus of evil” in Little Red Riding Hood. Or like calling Christmas a “fount or locus of evil” in A Christmas Carol.
I think what really irked O’Hehir was the Ed Warren quote that appeared at the end of the movie:
“The devil exists. God exists. And for us as people, our very destiny hinges upon which one we elect to follow.”
Never mind that the quote is a less pithy version of the chorus of Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.” It set O’Hehir off. Wrote O’Hehir:
Here’s the real ‘true story’ behind The Conjuring: Any time people get worked up about a menace they believe in but can’t actually see – demons, Commies, jihadis, hordes of hoodie-wearing thugs — they’re likely to take it out on the weakest and most vulnerable people in society.
I am sympathetic with the personal history he later reveals, of being descended from a woman who was accused and almost executed in the Salem witch trials, but I flat out don’t understand his point here. Are communists, terrorists, and thugs invisible? In The Conjuring, demons aren’t invisible either. And what is “taken out” on whom in The Conjuring?
But when I read “the weakest and most vulnerable people in society” I naturally think of the unborn – the most defenseless and dependent human beings among us.
That may after all be the reason why The Conjuring is so unsettling to him — and me.
It is horrifying to imagine a world where the devil convinces mothers to kill their children. And for people who have found it necessary to defend abortion, and double-down on their defense, a film that points out just how evil that is must be especially haunting.